Poet-in-residence Lillian-Yvonne Bertram to discuss art of surprise, ‘bizarre’ in Brown Bag

For a Brown Bag on “surprise,” Lillian-Yvonne Bertram takes inspiration from a fairly familiar poet: Robert Frost.

Bertram is the Chautauqua Writers’ Center Week Eight poet-in-residence. She will deliver her Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. Tues., Aug. 13, on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram

Bertram is the author of the poetry collections But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise, a slice from the cake made of air and Personal Science. She teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and is director of the pre-season Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.

Her talk today is titled “Finding the Unfamiliar: Making Space for the Strange to Enter.”

In describing what she hopes to discuss, Bertram paraphrased Frost: “no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

“I hope to talk about some of the ways that I find this surprise in my writing,” she said, “and part of that is through letting things just be strange in a poem and resisting the urge to always have things even out into easily digestible material.”

Bertram said the inspiration for her lecture came from her own writing experience.

“I think it’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut when writing — to write the same kind of thing in the same kind of way,” she said. “We often write what we know and how we know to write it.”

Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, Bertram said it is not synonymous with progress in a writer.

“Even if I have the same story to tell in my poems, I think part of the job of the writer is find new and unique ways of telling that story,” she said, “so that both writer and reader can think ‘Wow, I’ve never heard it put that way before.’ ”

Taking this leap of faith and allowing space for the bizarre and the unfamiliar can be difficult, Bertram said, “but also very exciting and (can) lead to lots of breakthroughs.”

Bertram said she hopes these strategies for “surprising” oneself, which she also uses in her own writing, will prove useful to her listeners.

“I hope they carry away a sense of permission,” she said, “and feel like they can take more risks in their writing and not worry about it always having to come out a certain way or with a certain kind of clarity.”

Tags : Chautauqua Writers’ CenterLillian-Yvonne Bertrampoet-in-residence

The author Emma Francois

Emma Francois is the literary arts reporter and a returning Daily staffer. She attends Georgetown University, studying English, art history and studio art. When she isn’t laughing at her own jokes, she is the highest-pitched voice on the fashion and politics podcast, “Stripped.” Ask her about feminism in the Avengers, backyard birding and her love for bike baskets.